The number of labour disputes handled by the Clothing Industry, Clerical and Retail Trade Employees General Union has surged by half. The general secretary of the union, Cheung Lai-ha, said the union handled 128 cases in the 12 months to March, compared with 85 cases in the previous year. A third of the 128 cases came from the retail sector, and just over a quarter from purchasing businesses. Cases involving textile workers accounted for a quarter, while just under 10 per cent related to office workers. 'Many companies sacked workers due to poor business, while some laid off workers despite enjoying profits. But the way they introduced cost-cutting measures lacks transparency and shows no respect to workers at all,' she said. Pointing to the case of the electronic-appliances retailer Gome, Ms Cheung said the company only informed its workers they would not receive a bonus for 2008 at Lunar New Year, the traditional time when bonuses were distributed. 'When the company finally broke the news to its workers, it said the bonus system had already been scrapped back in 2008. But workers only knew about that this year. The workers were kept in dark until the very last minute,' Ms Cheung said. Another retail chain that also sells electronic appliances, Goodway, reduced the basic salary for its sales assistants from HK$8,000 to HK$4,000 without consulting them, Ms Cheung said. The workers only learned about it when the decision had already been made. The union expressed concerns that the number of labour disputes would continue to rise this year. 'We have just survived the first quarter of this year. If the economy continues to worsen, surely there will be more disputes between bosses and workers,' Ms Cheung said.